Chevron pulls union workers from California refinery ahead of strike

A view of Chevron Corp’s refinery in Richmond, California on August 7, 2012. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

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MARCH 20 (Reuters) – Union workers have been moved from Chevron Corp’s oil refinery near San Francisco hours before the deadline for the start of the first labor strike at a gasoline-producing plant in more than 40 years.

More than 500 United Steelworkers members were removed from the plant Sunday night and replaced by non-union employees. PK White, USW Local 5’s senior vice president, said in an interview that no talks were planned for a new contract.

The current work contract at the Richmond, California refinery expired on February 1, and efforts have since failed to reach an agreement. The union voted twice to reject the company’s offers.

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“The union’s demands go beyond what the company believes are reasonable and go beyond what was agreed as part of the national bargaining agreement,” said Tyler Kruzic, a Chevron spokesman.

He said Chevron is “committed to continuing to negotiate an agreement” and has taken steps to continue normal operations at the facility.

The final blow to the 245,000 barrels per day plant, which produces gasoline, jet fuel and diesel fuel, was struck in 1980 as part of a nationwide strike.

negotiations away

“We’re very far” in reaching an agreement, said USW White. “It is difficult to negotiate when one side sees meat and bones and the other side sees the end result,” he added.

A citizen of the United States of America requested a 5% wage increase higher than that agreed last month by his peers due to the rising cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. White said she also wants the company to add staff to reduce the 60-70 hours union members sometimes have to work.

The USW and most US refiners last month reached a national agreement providing for a 12% wage increase over four years for about 30,000 union members at US oil and chemical companies.

Each local union separately negotiated a contract covering issues for the plant, and Richmond workers voted twice on Chevron’s proposals. Read more

Non-union Chevron employees began taking control of the refinery operations run by unionized workers around 5 p.m. Sunday, White said.

Fuel price hike

California has some of the highest fuel prices in the country, with a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline selling Sunday for $5,847 and a gallon of diesel for $6,258, according to AAA Motorists Group.

On Saturday, the union advised mechanics to go to the refinery and remove their personal tools before the contract extension expires.

Union members voted twice to reject Chevron’s proposals. The final vote, which was completed on Saturday, was overwhelmingly against what was called the company’s last, best and last bid, according to messages posted online by USW Local 5.

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(Reporting by Gary McWilliams) and Erwin Siba (Additional reporting); Editing by Diane Kraft and Stephen Coates

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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